The Initial Insult
"She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."
How rude! Thought Elizabeth to herself, quite shocked at the bad manners displayed by the haughty gentleman who had spoken. Shocked, and also rather insulted by what she felt was an unfair assessment of herself.
Still, she mused, she heard similar statements frequently from her own mother, who often compared her unfavorably to her eldest daughter, Jane. In that sense, the comment was quite unremarkable, and was deemed irrelevant.
Elizabeth was soon distracted by her observation of Sir William Lucas who had just approached Miss Bingley with the intention of beginning a pleasant conversation. When he spoke to the lady, she gave a start, seemingly unbelieving that he had dared approach a person as venerated as herself, and stared at him as if he had just wiped his nose on her dress. The answer she gave him was terse and laconic. Sir William did not seem to notice her contempt, continuing to talk at her in a pleasant manner, and Elizabeth noted that Miss Bingley's nose seemed to travel farther and farther up in the air the more the amiable gentleman spoke. Was the relationship between the number of words spoken by Sir William and the height of Miss Bingley's nose linear or exponential, she wondered. And if charted properly, would it be possible to calculate the exact amount of words Sir William would need to utter in order to push Miss Bingley's nose so high up that she would be staring directly at the ceiling?
With such diverting thoughts to occupy her, a certain ungentlemanly remark was soon completely forgotten.
When Elizabeth's close friend, Miss Lucas, wandered over to her side, Elizabeth was too busy sharing her observations with her to notice the startled look sent her way by the haughty gentleman. Until she began conversing with her friend, Mr. Darcy had not realized just how easily sound traveled between where Miss Elizabeth sat and his own location. He was mortified to realize that his rude comment had most likely been overheard by its subject.
For a moment, he was tempted to ignore this revelation and pretend that nothing had happened, but his conscience would not allow it. He had made a bad mistake and been horrifically rude, and as a gentleman (though a rather poor example of one, he mused ruefully) it was his duty to apologize for his bad behavior.
He waited until the woman's friend left and she was alone again, before approaching her.
"Pardon me, Madam," he said to her back, and she turned in surprise to stare at him.
"Good evening, Sir," she curtsied. She stared at him with an eyebrow raised in curiosity, and he felt blood rise to his cheeks.
He cleared his throat awkwardly. "I simply wished to apologize to you over the comment I made to my friend, and which I now realize was uttered within your hearing. I spoke rashly in a moment of vexation, and no personal insult to you was intended." If fact, now that he was close enough to look into her eyes, he found that there was a lively expression in them that rendered her unremarkable features quite charming.
She frowned for a moment thoughtfully. "Would you be willing to remind me what you said? I have forgotten, you see, and can hardly forgive you if I do not know what I am forgiving you for."
Mr. Darcy flushed. "I could not possibly repeat it."
"Why not?" she asked. "You said it once before, so you are obviously capable of saying it again."
"It was most ungentlemanly of me to say it once, as I should not have said it at all. I will not compound on the sin by repeating the offense."
She sighed. "The problem is, Mr. -?"
"The problem is, Mr. Darcy, that you have now aroused my curiosity. Surely it would be far more ungentlemanly to leave my curiosity unsatisfied than to repeat something you have already said."
He huffed a reluctant laugh, but shook his head. "I will not repeat it. I am glad you appear to have forgotten it already, it is not worth remembering."
"I will forget it again, if you do tell me," she promised. "I have a terrible memory. So really, it would make no difference in the long run, whether you told me or not."
He could not be prevailed upon to tell her, though, and she left the conversation disappointed.
The Ensuing Exchange
Elizabeth had just finished exhibiting at the assembly in Lucas Lodge, where she had been prevailed upon to preform by her friend, Charlotte, when she was approached by a tall gentleman who asked her to dance, at the the urging of Sir William Lucas.
"Dare I wonder if you remember me this time, Miss Elizabeth?" the gentleman asked.
That was an easy question. Elizabeth knew all the members of Meryton and the area. If she did not recognize his face, that meant he was new to the neighborhood, and since he was not wearing uniform, he was not from the militia. That left only one person he could be- "Of course I remember you, Mr. Bingley," she smiled at him.
He seemed torn between amusement and offence. Clearly in the end, amusement won out. "I am Mr. Darcy," he told her. "Mr. Bingley is my friend."
Elizabeth chastised herself mentally. Of course there were other gentlemen at Netherfield! She had been discussing Mr. Bingley quite frequently with Jane recently, as Jane was quite enamored with the man, so his had been the immediate name to come to mind.
She thought it would be impolitic to tell Mr. Darcy that the cause for her mistake was how often she gossiped with her sister about his friend. Instead she simply replied with: "Ah yes, you vexed me greatly by refusing to tell me how you had insulted me. You see, Mr. Darcy, I did in fact remember you, I had simply not yet memorized your features, or those of your friend."
She looked around the other room to find the other unfamiliar face- the one that belonged to Mr. Bingley. For the purpose of distinguishing them in the future, she noted to herself that Mr. Darcy had darker hair and was the handsomer of the two.
"I apologize, Mr. Darcy," she smiled up at him winningly. "Next time, I will remember you. You have my word."
The Felicitous Finale
"In vain I have struggled," Mr. Darcy told her heatedly. "It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
Elizabeth beamed. It did not take long into her visit to Netherfield all the way back in the fall to realize that Mr. Darcy was the man who, in dispositions and talents, most suited her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, answered all her wishes. "You too have my admiration and love, Mr. Darcy," she said sweetly, inadvertently cutting off the remainder of his speech.
"Dearest Elizabeth!" he exclaimed, grasping her hands. "Then you will marry me?"
"Certainly, Mr. Darcy. Nothing would make me happier."
"That makes two of us," he said affectionately, pulling her into his embrace.
"You are perfectly happy, then?" Elizabeth asked. Her mother had scolded her upon the occasion of Mr. Darcy quitting Netherfield for not encouraging him enough in her direction. She herself was aware that forgetting the man's name frequently in the beginning of the relationship was not the best form of encouragement, and was not insensible to the notion that Mr. Darcy might be feeling insecure in her affections. Wishing to assure him of her feelings, she continued: "You said something about struggling, earlier, Mr. Darcy. And you did leave Netherfield without a word of goodbye, this autumn. I wish to tell you that if you have any qualms-"
"No qualms I have had can be equal to the joy you have occasioned by consenting to become my wife," he declared. "I merely felt hesitant before proposing due to the financial and social differences between us."
Since it never occurred to Elizabeth that the man she admired and loved would be stupid enough to reference a woman's inadequacies when proposing to her, she can perhaps be forgiven for jumping to the following conclusion: "Oh, are you poor, my dear? You ought to have known better than to worry about me rejecting you over your income! I do not mind the need to be frugal, if I can be assured of such marital felicity as will be ours. Having your company would quite make up for some deprivation on other fronts."
Mr. Darcy frowned, and straightened his back with pride. "I am not poor. I have an income of ten thousand a year. I distinctly remember it being discussed when I first came to the neighborhood."
Elizabeth shrugged. "I must have forgotten. In that case, what was the problem?"
Mr. Darcy coloured. "There was- well, not to be indelicate, but- the issue of inappropriately behaved relations has given me some concern."
Elizabeth laughed. "Really, Mr. Darcy! You cannot think that I would reject you, simply because of your aunt's bad behavior! You can hardly help what she is, or how she acts. Besides, as we would be living far away from her, I do not see how your inappropriately behaved relation will have any real effect on our lives. I love you, you foolish man, I would tolerate far more for your sake than some uncomfortable moments when visiting relations. Besides, I have enough unpleasant relations of my own. In that regard, we are equal," she finished reassuringly.
He opened his mouth and then closed it again, and made such a wheezing sound that for a moment she feared he had something stuck in his throat. Then he sagged, looking abjectly defeated, and sat down next to her. "You have shamed me, Elizabeth," he said quietly. "I am unworthy of you."
"I am sure that I do not know what you are talking about."
"Better that you do not," he sighed, taking her hand and bestowing a kiss upon it. "Better that you do not."